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WEST LIBERTY - Competition breeds conflict.
That much has been true as long as people have been competing against each other - whether that's in sports, politics or business. At the racetrack, that conflict can manifest itself in several ways, and on Saturday night at West Liberty Raceway it was on display in the IMCA Late Model Tri-Track Challenge main event.
Davenport driver Brian Harris came from deep in the pack and used a caution with 10 laps to go to outduel Wheatland's Justin Kay for the $2,000 check. The two have had multiple run-ins in the past, and several members of Kay's crew - most notably crew chief and chassis builder Tyson Gheer - used to work for Harris.
That makes the way they finished that much better for Harris and worse for Kay.
'They don't like me and I don't like them,” Harris said in his Victory Lane interview. 'There's a rivalry between us. There's a lot of my old guys that are helping him. The rivalry is good for the sport.”
Kay had gotten to the lead around halfway in the 40-lap main event, passing eventual third-place finisher Denny Eckrich and, for the moment, setting sail on the field.
When Kay took the lead, Harris was running eighth. But two cautions allowed Harris to restart in the outside lane and make up a ton of ground in a short amount of time. The final restart with 10 laps to go put the two side-by-side. They raced that way for at least five laps, neither giving an inch and driving as hard as they could.
With three laps to go, Harris cleared Kay and that was that in Kay's bid for his 20th feature win of the season. After the race, the frustration of coming out on the short end of the rivalry - the second time this season Harris has beat Kay at West Liberty in a close race - Kay declined to comment on racing Harris and how racing between them has played out in the last several years.
Harris obviously acknowledged what many already knew about the tension between the two, but was happy the two could race clean for the win this time.
'The cautions helped us, starting on the outside. I timed that last restart pretty good, and probably spooked him, flustered him a little bit,” Harris said. 'There's things that are going to happen on the track, especially when there's two competitive, fast cars that have a little bit of a beef between each other.
'No one wants to go out and hurt anybody, but we want to win. Tonight was clean. There was no rubbing, no banging. I'm sure they're torqued a little bit, but we've been torqued a lot this year, too.”
For his part of the race, Kay said something in the car changed from midrace to the final 10 laps. He said he wasn't able to work the car like he had in the first half of the race and it ultimately cost him the win.
And while he's still at the top of the heap in an IMCA Late Model - he got a fifth IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series win this week - a race like Saturday's where another car ran him down to win after he had a big lead indicates at least some of the gap between him and the field is shrinking.
Kay said he never doubted other teams would start to catch up, but results like Saturday's only makes them want to work that much harder to stay on top.
'I just couldn't do it like I did earlier in the race, but oh well,” Kay said. 'They should be catching up to us; they better be. They've got to get tired of getting beat all the time. We did, so that's why we got our cars better. That's what they should be doing, too.
'Now we're going to go back and work on ours some more.”
For all the reasons listed, Harris and his current group have perhaps the biggest motivation to bring Kay back to the crowd.
More than anyone, Harris knows full well what Kay has behind him - Harris won a lot of races with Gheer as his crew chief - but also knows no one else is giving up the effort to bridge the gap.
'They have something a lot of us other competitors don't have, and that's a full-time guy,” Harris said. 'I've been in this longer than them and I've seen all kinds of different scenarios where someone's on top. They're a little bit of an exception because they've been able to stay on top of the mountain for a long period of time.
'But everybody else in the pit area isn't laying down. We're trying and everybody's spending money and time in the shop.”
IMCA LATE MODEL TRI-TRACK CHALLENGE
WEST LIBERTY RACEWAY TOP FIVE
1. 15r Brian Harris, Davenport; 2. 15k Justin Kay, Wheatland; 3. 50 Denny Eckrich, Tiffin; 4. 88 Kevin Kile, West Liberty; 5. 1m Rob Moss, Iowa City.
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